The 2019 KX450 was a bolt out of the blue. Without any real hype, we suddenly saw a brand-new machine with all the big-hitting goodness that any green-blooded rider could hope for. Now we ride the 2020 version, and not only does it feel radioactive, it looks it too.

This is certainly one of those colour schemes that will go down in history as memorable. For good or for bad, the 2020 KX450 has gone all green. The traditional colours you would expect for the airbox/mudflap combo have been changed to green, as are the number boards – leaving no one in any doubt as to what brand of bike this is. Kawasaki are obviously proud of their identity as the mean green racing machines and it is something that goes far beyond the way that their bikes look. Our test at Pirinis left me in no doubt as to how intense this new bike has become.

Green Dragon

I was given a baptism by fire. My bike had come equipped with the aggressive EFI coupling and I had not thought to check or ask about it. After all, the maps don’t usually make too much of a difference anyway – or at least I thought. Well, I can tell you that the power was so instant that it almost felt like I was riding a monster with the sneezles. Even in the higher gears – as I tend to ride when wanting to tame a bike down, it still felt so responsive that I could swear the engine almost prophesized what my throttle hand was about to do and jumped in with both guns blazing.

It wasn’t until after the bike’s owner had ridden the bike himself and exclaimed that he didn’t know how I had been able to ride it that we changed couplers back to the stock setting, where I discovered a much more manageable machine. Not that you would call it mild-mannered, mind you.

There were a million changes to the engine last year that could have contributed to it having such good response. Well, too many to list here without losing your attention. An interesting side-note that I discovered while researching this bike is that it actually makes less power than the previous generation of KX450 up until fairly high in the rev range, and yet you would swear it makes oodles more power the whole way through.

What it produces is a power delivery that most people will get a hoot out of. In saying that, it will pay to use the softer EFI coupler any time you are worried about your arms not being up to the challenge. This is definitely a bike where you want to take note of which map you are using in order to get maximum enjoyment from your ride. If you are in softer soil and your arms can handle it, then feel free to go for the aggressive coupler. But most mere mortals on normal tracks will be better on the stock or easy map, especially in slippery sections like some of what we had at Pirini.

 

Mr Muscles

Fortunately, the track had dried enough to give the suspension a thorough flogging as well. Not surprisingly I was pleased with the plushness of those beautiful 49mm spring forks. Aside from the bliss of not needing to bend my brain on all that was entailed in the old air forks if something wasn’t quite right, what I like most is how smooth the spring forks work through the middle of the stroke. But there was one reservation.

These forks were susceptible to blowing through the stroke on harder hits, to the point of bottoming. While you could effectively go up a spring rate or two with air forks by pumping the pressure up, on spring forks it is more serious of a job and something of an expense. Personally, I think the effort and expense of going to a heavier fork spring would be worth it in my case, partly because of my penchant for some pretty extreme G-forces, but also because of something that has everything to do with the rear of this bike.

We noticed that the shock felt over sprung. Checking the sag, everything seemed pretty good, but on the track, it just felt like the rear overwhelmed the front a little. You might think that you wouldn’t notice it, but there was more to it than only bottoming the fork. I mainly noticed it under sharp accelerating bumps where the rear didn’t squat nicely, and while it didn’t really bother me much, it was an indication that the balance could do with some tuning. I remember that last year we went five or six clicks firmer on the fork compression and rebound while we only made the shock a little bit harder. For this test we could have also given the bike a wee bit more sag, but that could have been at the risk of losing one of the best things about this generation of KX450 – which is how well it turns.

Flick-A-What? 

For many years the biggest Kawasaki was extremely stable. It would brush aside any potential threat of being kicked sideways as though swatting a fly, but its Kryptonite was tight turns. Fortunately, the engineers have been able to find a happy place that allows the big green to turn better than ever. Want to cut inside that rut? Go for it. This bike wouldn’t be your first choice for some of the tighter tracks found in the North Island, but it will get the job done and really reward you on the faster or softer sections.

On a similar vein, Kawasaki are on a seemingly endless quest to make their bikes narrower to help in that quest for flickability. Last year it was the area between radiator shrouds that received that treatment. It is now to the point of feeling more like a 250cc machine between your knees – especially when standing – and that is helped even more with possibly the smoothest and most rounded plastics found on any brand.

There is simply nothing for your boots or knees to get caught up on. I wonder if Eli Tomac himself had something to do with this, who just won his third consecutive AMA Motocross Championship aboard this machine. I say that because I think he had a problem with getting caught up on the shrouds of his previous bike and this bike takes smoothness to the extreme. Not only do the radiator shrouds curve like a VW Beetle over the top and around the front, but they also extend in one unbroken strip almost to the back of the seat. That is not to say that the ergonomics will completely suit everyone’s tastes.

There is something rather quirky about the handlebars. They don’t seem to have much of a sweep backwards, encouraging you to get over the front of the bike more. That can be a good thing if you stand a lot as Eli does, but can make the bike feel a bit restrictive to sit on. The handlebars also feel like they are on the tall side. They are a crossbar style handlebar, which could easily be swapped out for a tapered version, but you will want to test and see if all the gadgets on the left handlebar will fit first.

Techy Bits

Competing for room with the left handlebar grip is a kill switch, launch control button and hydraulic unit for the clutch that dominates the space. A tapered handlebar might struggle to fit all of those things, but that is not to say we are complaining about any of it.

Having a hydraulic clutch has no doubt been the tipping point that Kawasaki needed to bring some people back to their side. It promises a smooth pull at all times in all conditions – which could be the silver bullet should conditions get extreme. I wouldn’t say that the pull is noticeably lighter than a cable would be, you just know that it isn’t going to fade. In saying that, any riders that always have their pointing finger resting on the clutch will want to be careful that they are not unconsciously slipping the clutch at the risk of burning it out before its time. It is slipping the moment you put any pressure on it, which is another one of the reasons why this bike feels like such an extreme racing machine.

Not only is the clutch and throttle super sensitive, the brakes are definitely cut from the same cloth. Coming into a rut I was made well aware that finesse was essential, both to avoid locking the rear and also to avoid the front brakes pulling me up too quickly. What it creates is an incredibly fun machine that takes the idea of “Racing Machine” to the extreme. Because everything is so responsive, very quickly you learn to respect and appreciate its aggressive attitude. This bike is guaranteed to give you the grin factor, which is good because very few people just use these bikes to get from A to B. We do it for adrenaline, which the 2020 KX450 delivers in spades.

By now you may have noticed that I have not told you about many changes for 2020. The reason is that there are simply no changes for this year apart from the green plastics. Yes, a lot of their R&D time and effort would have gone into the development of the new KX250F, but I am sure that had they been sure about the need to change something on this bike then they would have done it. You could look at it like this – they were careful enough to test the new bike so completely last year that it didn’t need any improvements. It could be some peace of mind to many people. Kawasaki dealers across the country also get a second chance to either sell or order more of what is essentially the same bike according to customer demand. And by now most people will know what kind of adjustments they would want to make to one of these bikes – if any.

I hopped on for one more ride, pushed that magical button to fire it into life and gave the launch control another test. Now that we had installed the green EFI coupler I was riding a more manageable bike.

But something within me wanted to go back to the wildness of the white coupling and the intensity of a racing start without the launch control – despite the fact that both decisions would cost me. Deep down, most dirt bikers share the desire to feel like they are on a Factory Race Team bike. Kawasaki might as well bring it out pre-printed with number one plates. Whether or not it is the right machine to propel you to earning that position depends on your desire. Eli Tomac has already proven that the bike can do it, and the cool thing is that I am pretty sure that this bike will make you feel like you could too.

Even an unaccustomed crash at the weekend could do little to derail Tauranga teenager Brodie Connolly in his bid to win the senior 125cc motocross championships crown.

The 16-year-old Husqvarna rider from Tauranga was unbeatable at the 59th annual New Zealand Motocross Grand Prix at Woodville in January, untouchable in the 125cc class on both days of racing at that iconic event, and he carried on his winning ways at the first of four rounds in the 2020 New Zealand Motocross Championships in Balclutha a week later.

He showed up Rotorua on Sunday for round two of the championships, unloaded his LMC Racing Team Husqvarna TC125 and proceeded to qualify the bike 1.7 seconds a lap faster than the next quickest rider during the morning session.

Connolly therefore again looked to be comfortably heading towards a hat-trick of wins in the afternoon.

The first two 125cc races at Rotorua went according to plan, Connolly snatching the lead both times and leading every lap until the finish, Aucklander Cobie Bourke, who had been the second-fastest qualifier, finishing runner-up on both occasions.

Tauranga’s Brodie Connolly (LMC Racing Team Husqvarna TC125), with a massive lead in the 125cc class title chase

But then disaster struck for Connolly as he was caught in traffic at the start of the day’s final 125cc race and, in a bold bid to quickly re-assert himself, he collided with another rider and hit the dirt hard.

Then came a remarkable and brave ride as Connolly picked himself up in last place and set off after the leaders.

He picked off one rider after another and then, with the race drawing to an end he decided to settle for a runner-up finish, crossing the line behind Tauranga’s Madoc Dixon, and satisfied that he had still be able to extend his championship points lead.

“I backed off near the end of the race because I didn’t want to risk crashing again and maybe not finishing,” said Connolly.

“I went straight to hospital after the final race because I’d hurt my finger pretty bad in the crash,” Connolly revealed. “There is a small break in the bone, but nothing major and I’ll be okay for the next round.”

Connolly had started the day in Rotorua on top of the standings, nine points clear of Dixon. He ended the day in Rotorua a whopping 37 points ahead of the new No.2 rider in the class, Christchurch’s Marshall Phillips, and Connolly remains in a confident mood as the championships now head to Fernhill, in Hawke’s Bay, for round three this coming Sunday (March 1).

“Madoc and Cobie have both had a few problems at Balclutha or Rotorua and they have both dropped points, so there’s really no pressure on me,” said Connolly.

It could be said there was never any pressure on Connolly anyway, so dominant has he been, with five wins now from six starts in the series thus far.

“I have raced before at Fernhill. I won the junior 11-12 years’ 85cc title there in 2016, so I’m looking forward to this coming weekend.”

Connolly is supported by LMC Husqvarna, Elevate Roofing, un4seen Decals, CFX, Pirelli, Shift MX, Motorex, FMF, Scott, Pro Taper, WP Suspension, Acerbis, EBC, DID Chains, UNI, Motomuck, Flight Path, SIDI, G2 Throttles, Tamer Hole Shot Device, EZE Race Products, Vortex Ignitions and Serval Machinery Repairs.

Credit: Words and photo by Andy McGechan

Every so often in motocross racing, a rider has the kind of race that makes all the hard work worth it. For him. For his team. For the sport.

Altherm JCR Yamaha’s MX1 contender Kirk Gibbs had that race yesterday at the Fox New Zealand Motocross Championship’s second round – where he crashed at the start of the second moto, got back on his YZ450 and proceeded to blast his way through the premier pack from a lowly 17th to take the win.

His Team Manager Josh Coppins, who puts countless hours into progressing his four-rider squad, took a moment to savour visiting Australian Gibbs’ glory at the Phillips’ farm property, south-west of Rotorua, at Horohoro.

“That result fired Kirk up and it fired us up too. It made our Altherm JCR Yamaha team feel good about what we are doing and why we do it. Races like that. Performances like that. They are why we do this job,” he says.

Gibbs, who had been sitting 11 points adrift of leader Cody Cooper after the opening round in Balclutha three weeks ago, describes how an early tangle in race two spurred him on.

“I was frustrated with myself and just wanted to be in the fight, so I pushed really hard and caught all the way back up to Hamish [Harwood] and Coops [Cooper] and was able to pass both of them and get the win, so I was really happy with that one,” he says.

His second in the first race and a holeshot-to-victory third race gave him the overall win for the weekend. Gibbs is now well within striking distance to lift the MX1 trophy that he took back across the Tasman in 2018, sitting only six points behind defending champ Cooper.

“I’m really happy with the Altherm JCR Yamaha team and my team at home [in the Sunshine Coast], who are working hard in between rounds. I’m stoked with how today ended up,” he says, of what Coppins calls “getting his mojo back!”

Altherm JCR Yamaha’s Maximus Purvis powers his way into second overall in the MX2 championship in Rotorua

The other Altherm JCR Yamaha rider to finish on the podium was MX2 charger Maximus Purvis, of Mangakino. Coppins says the 19-year-old had a strong weekend with a results’ set of 3-3-2.

“Max rode well. He made some mistakes in his starts in his first few races and when he got that better, he was closer to the front. With two rounds to go, he’s only 8 points off Josiah Natzke’s lead, so he’s right in there for the championship. We are going to work very hard with him this week, aiming to get things a little bit better,” he says.

Purvis had a straightforward plan for the penultimate round this weekend in Hawkes Bay.

“Get some good starts and get some good points,” he says.

The Altherm JCR Yamaha team’s other two riders Kayne Lamont (MX1) and Dylan Walsh (MX2) both finished fourth overall for the round and will be working hard this week to bridge the gaps to the leaders.

Hamilton-based Lamont is still on the mend from extensive bruising to his glute muscles, which he incurred in a crash at the Woodville GP in January. He settled into the racing yesterday, with a 4-5 in the first two races, before finding the form in race 3 that has seen him win MX1 races around the country.

“It started raining a little, which made the track conditions quick slick. I got a decent start and was second behind Kirk and then Cody passed me. I managed to sit in behind him for the race, then I felt like I was actually riding better than him, so hounded him all moto and managed to pass him with two laps remaining to finish second [to teammate Gibbs],” Lamont says.

Coppins adds that it was great to see Lamont “getting back to full fitness and full speed.”

The 2019 British Motocross Championship’s MX2 winner Walsh started strongly, qualifying second on his YZ250F but “didn’t get comfortable all day which really showed in my riding,” he says.

Coppins admits “Dylan struggled a little bit.”

“He was around fourth place all day and sits fourth in the championship. He’s still adapting to the Yamaha and to us. He’s pretty disappointed but he just needs to be patient and bring it home,” he says.

It is a short, busy week between rounds for the Altherm JCR Yamaha team and they will stay in the Taupo/Rotorua region, working with the four riders on the track on Wednesday and Thursday.

“The mechanics will stay at the track preparing the bikes, then we will head over to Napier for a school visit on Friday. We set up on Saturday and race day is Sunday. Hawkes Bay is an important round for us, as at halfway through the championship, points are tight, and this third round needs to be solid. We won’t leave any stone unturned to ensure the four boys are on the front foot for the championship chase,” Coppins says.

RESULTS:
MX1
1st Kirk Gibbs (YZ450) – 72
2nd Cody Cooper – 67
3rd Hamish Harwood – 58
4th Kayne Lamont (YZ450) – 56
5th Brad Groombridge – 49

MX2
1st Josiah Natzke – 63
2nd Maximus Purvis (YZ250F) – 62
3rd James Scott – 57
4th Dylan Walsh (YZ250F)- 52
5th Kyle Webster – 50

2020 Fox New Zealand Motocross Championship
Round One – Balclutha, 1st February 2020
Round Two – Rotorua, 23rd February 2020
Round Three – Hawkes Bay, 1st March 2020
Round Four – Taupo, 15th March 2020

ALTHERM JCR YAMAHA WOULD LIKE TO THANK THE FOLLOWING SPONSORS:
Altherm Window Systems, JCR, Yamaha Motor New Zealand, Yamalube, GYTR, bLU cRU, YMF, YMI, Holland Collision Centre, Ward Demolition, Star Moving, Contract Consultants, Fox, Workshop Graphics, Akrapovic,Motoseat, Motomuck, Vertex Pistons, SKF, Renthal, DID Chains & Twin Air.

Words by Altherm JCR Yamaha Media, Photos by Clmintiepix

Bay of Plenty’s Josiah Natzke is creeping relentlessly closer to claiming his first senior 250cc motocross crown.

The former New Zealand 125cc motocross champion has been racing overseas for the past few seasons and his homecoming has been glorious, the 21-year-old taking his Transdiesel Shell Advance Kawasaki KX250F to dominate at several major domestic events in recent months, his latest success coming in the early phases of the four-round New Zealand Motocross Championships.

Round two of the motocross series was held on farmland at Horohoro, about 20 kilometres south-west of Rotorua on Sunday, and by late afternoon Mount Maunganui’s Natzke was able to celebrate boosting his lead in the MX2 (250cc) standings to eight points over the second-ranked rider, Mangakino’s Maximus Purvis, a good position to be in with the championships now at the halfway stage.

Natzke won the day in his class at the opening round of the series in Balclutha three weeks ago and, although he didn’t enjoy the same dominance at Rotorua on Sunday, he still managed to enhance his championship standings, inching two more competition points further away from the chasing bunch.

Natzke qualified fastest early on Sunday and then comfortably won the first of three MX2 races, leading the 12-lap race from start to finish and taking the chequered flag by a solid 15.5 seconds from runner-up rider James Scott, from Oparau.

He had more of a fight on his hands in race two, Natzke eventually fighting through traffic to finish second, less than four seconds behind the winner, visiting Australian Kyle Webster.

He suffered a poor start in race three and had his work cut out to power through traffic from a long way back in the field.

In the end, Natzke battled to the fifth position by race end and, although frustrated by this result, he was grateful to leave Rotorua with his points lead intact, actually boosted a fraction, and he was happy to still be in possession of the championship leader’s red number plate.

Mount Maunganui’s Josiah Natzke (Transdiesel Shell Advance Kawasaki KX250F), now in a stronger position in the MX2 (250cc) class after round two of the nationals in Rotorua on Sunday

Holding the red plate can be a huge confidence boost for the rider who holds it, a badge of honour, and Natzke is determined to keep a firm grip on it as the competition now heads to Hawke’s Bay, at Mere Road, near Fernhill, for round three this coming Sunday, March 1.

The fourth and final round set for Taupo on March 15.

“The first two races (at Rotorua on Sunday) were really good, but the last race was a missed opportunity for me,” said Natzke afterwards.

“I had a terrible start. I’m still moving forward in the championship chase, but I’m frustrated. I wanted to do better, of course.

“I’m happy to still be leading the championship and I’m looking forward to Hawke’s Bay. I want to come away with enough points after Fernhill that I can take a good safety buffer with me, perhaps have a race under my belt, heading into the final round.”

If he does hold it all together and wrap up the MX2 motocross title at the fourth and final round at Taupo on March 15, it will be a treasured “bookend” for the New Zealand Supercross Championships title trophy that the Kawasaki ace won last November.

Natzke is supported by Kawasaki NZ, Transdiesel, Shell Advance Lubricants, Mainstream, Bridgestone, Rekluse, Alpinestars, 100%, Un4Seen Graphics, Pro Circuit, Moto HQ, Polisport, Koromiko Engineering, RK Chains, CFX Seats, Goodbuzz, Renthal Handlebars and MTX Sprockets.

Meanwhile, in the MX1 class, Bay of Plenty’s defending champion Cody Cooper continues to lead the title chase after Sunday’s racing, while Tauranga’s Brodie Connolly still rules the roost in the 125cc class.

Words and photo by Andy McGechan

The famous refrain “Go Well, Go Shell” could perhaps never be more appropriate than right now, particularly for a race team that’s already rocketing along like greased lightning.

One of the most go-ahead and high-profile teams on the New Zealand motocross scene – the TransDiesel-backed Kawasaki Racing Team – is absolutely pumping this year and it has just gained a little extra lubrication in its slick bid to capture a national title this season.

This weekend in Rotorua it is the second round of four in the New Zealand Motocross Championships and the men on the distinctive green Kawasaki bikes will show up on Sunday with their bikes and rig emblazoned with the Shell Advance colours, a rapid and smooth response to main sponsor TransDiesel having taken over the distribution rights for Shell Oil in New Zealand.

The Kawasaki team is already strongly positioned, with MX2 (250cc) class rider Josiah Natzke on top of that category after the national series opener at Balclutha three weeks ago, Mount Maunganui’s Natzke following on from his New Zealand Supercross Championships title win back in November and his overall MX2 class victory at the big annual Whakatane Summercross in late December.

His re-branded Shell Advance Kawasaki Racing Team will, therefore, arrive at the race venue this Sunday – off State Highway 30 at Horohoro, just outside Rotorua – in a confident mood.

The team’s MX1 class rider, Te Puke’s Tyler Steiner, is currently positioned at seventh overall in this 450cc capacity bike class and poised to move up.

Change can happen very quickly on the motocross scene and now it’s going to be even slicker and massively exciting at the same time for the Kawasaki men.

“TransDiesel have done well to secure the distribution of Shell Oil in New Zealand. We are fortunate enough to be part of the transition to Shell Oil becoming the Major Sponsor for the Kawasaki Race Team,” said Kawasaki New Zealand Race Team manager Shane Verhoeven.

“Moving forward, I am truly excited to introduce everybody to the Shell Advance Kawasaki Race Team and it couldn’t be more fitting having Josiah Natzke taking the leader’s red number plate into the second round, six points clear of second place.”

The front number board on the Kawasaki KX250F of Bay of Plenty’s Josiah Natzke, the rider who is currently leading the MX2 class after the national series opener

TransDiesel sees this latest association as a perfect fit and an ideal alliance.

“Here at TransDiesel, we’ve got your back. Which means we’re always looking to improve the products and services we offer our clients and customers,” said TransDiesel chief operating officer Paul Harris.

“We’re constantly evaluating everything within the TransDiesel stable to make sure it is the best that it can be, which is why we decided it was time for an oil change – for us and for the Kawasaki Race Team,” he said.

TransDiesel is now the official distributor of Shell motor oils and lubricants in New Zealand. Under the partnership agreement, TransDiesel will manage the distribution of Shell’s complete range of products across the consumer, transport, industrial, agricultural and marine sectors in New Zealand.

“TransDiesel is thrilled to be the new distributor for Shell lubricants and proud to introduce and unveil the newly-rebranded Shell Advance Kawasaki Racing Team, which will be competing this weekend.

“The Shell Advance Motorcycle Oil has a long history in motorcycle racing both in New Zealand and internationally, so TransDiesel is very pleased to be able to bring the brand back to the market which we will see an increase in presence over the coming weeks and months.

“Shell has been the leading global supplier of lubricants for 13 years in a row, a testament to the quality of their products and their dedication to the pursuit of excellence. We know the team are constantly striving for excellence too, which is why we’re so excited to be continuing our sponsorship under the new brand,” Harris said.

“With the alignment of Kawasaki, Shell and TransDiesel and all three strong brands sharing the same passion for performance, the future looks bright for this partnership and we look forward to our continued support

“TransDiesel is a well-established, 100% New Zealand-owned business, with a commitment to ensuring the brands they represent are global industry leaders in their respective fields. The company has experienced a sustained period of growth and success and this latest partnership with Shell is further testament to key international brands trust in TransDiesel being the best sales and service organisation to represent them in NZ.”

TransDiesel will begin product distribution in New Zealand on March 1.

After the racing at Rotorua on Sunday, the New Zealand Motocross Championships next head to Hawke’s Bay for round three on March 1, with the fourth and final round in Taupo on Sunday, March 15.

Credit: Words by Andy McGechan